Far North Queensland federal Liberal MP, Warren Entsch, is not expecting voter backlash following his decision to support the private member’s Bill introduced by fellow Liberal, Sussan Ley, which calls for the end of live sheep exports within five years.
People responding to the news on Mr Entsch’s Facebook post immediately commented that it would be a short step to bringing in bans on the live cattle export trade, while Katter’s Australian Party state leader, Rob Katter, used the news to question the LNP’s commitment to the sheep and cattle industries in Queensland.
Mr Katter said it was unlikely the people of Leichhardt would be happy if their elected member supported a ban on live cattle.
Earlier this month, KAP announced that Cairns-based charter boat operator, Daniel McCarthy, would be their candidate in Leichhardt at the next federal election, after he contested the seat as an independent in 2016.
“Queensland is the largest exporter of beef in Australia and Australia is the third largest exporter of beef in the world,’’ Mr Katter said.
“This industry is worth billions to our economy. If the LNP wish to ban the export of live cattle they are going to destroy the industry in northern Australia.
“I think people are entitled to ask, ‘what is going on here?’.”
In saying he was “inclined to support” the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 , Mr Entsch added that he didn’t want his decision to lead to the debate “being hijacked by the Australian Labor Party purely for them to gain cheap political points”.
“Furthermore, if and when the Bill is debated, I will not support it being extended to capture the live cattle industry,” he said.
Social media commentators, including Charters Towers grazier, Kylie Stretton, weren’t confident that could be avoided, suggesting that Mr Entsch had opened the door to the possibility.
“What will this mean for your electorate if cattle live exports are to follow?” she said. “You are naive if you think banning sheep export won't lead to that.”
Similarly, Douglas Rodgers said the beef live trade would be “next on the chopping block”.
“You are well aware of the impact shutting that trade down would have on every single one of your cattlemen,” he concluded.
Bob Kelso said Mr Entsch’s emotions had clouded his judgment, citing the impending AACo abattoir closure in Darwin as a pointer to the irrationality of expecting the live trade to be replaced by boxed meat.
“I know you only want to ban live sheep exports at this stage but it will eventually effect the cattle as well.”
There was support from the farming community for Mr Entsch, such as comments from Jenny Hume saying “we are all being tainted by this vile trade which has taken over 2.5 million animals to an appalling death on ships for decades”.
“I hope you can lead others to support the legislation and please talk to Mr Littleproud and suggest he for once take independent advice, not just from people who have made their living from this trade,” she said.
Mr Entsch said the differences between sheep and cattle live export conditions were “chalk and cheese”, which meant he could support the phasing out of the sheep trade without jeopardising live cattle exports.
“Live export is only 6 per cent of the sheep industry and it’s been declining over the last 20 years,” he said.
“There are only two destinations in the Middle East, and in Kuwait, the sheep are immediately killed and chilled and sold as Aussie lamb.
“Why not send that as boxed from Australia?”
He believed it would be nearly impossible to alter Qatar’s ingrained importing habits of decades and said the new regulations didn’t alter the fact that the sheep were on their feet for 25 days during a voyage, and remained subject to extreme humidity, thanks to boat design.
“Cattle are transported in much less densities, they’re only on boats for five or six days, and they’re going into feedlots,” he said. “Issues on the cattle side weren’t to do with transport but with processing at the final destination, and a lot of work has been done on that.”
Mr Entsch said he didn’t fear a backlash from cattle producers in his electorate.
“If I can’t call out cruelty, how’s my credibility,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, the cattle industry is not negotiable.”